Fans of the late, great playwright Tennessee Williams recently gathered at the Vero Beach Theater Guild for a wine reception to open the month-long 10 X Tenn Theater Festival.
Attendees paced the theater and sipped wine while perusing the various archival materials on loan from the Tennessee Williams Museum in Key West. Curator Dennis Beaver founded the museum 11 years ago with his partner Bert Whitt, the original curator of the Harry S. Truman Little White House in Key West, Florida’s only presidential museum.
Beaver later gave a lecture on the life and times of the famous author, which was followed by the documentary Tennessee Williams’ South.
Beaver said they founded the museum in 2011, on Williams’ 100th birthday, at the behest of the Key West Art & Historical Society, of which they are now affiliated, and it has grown each year.
“We now have what we believe is the largest collection of Tennessee Williams photographs and memorabilia on permanent display,” Beaver said.
“We have hundreds of photos and articles, magazines, plays, posters, anything you can think of about your life. At first it was just Key West, but it grew and grew. So now we cover everything he’s ever done.
Beaver said Williams has owned a home in Key West for about 35 years, having previously frequented it for five years.
“Almost everything was partly written in Key West. He wrote something and went to New York or Rome or London and came back and wrote some more,” Beaver said.
The playwright’s first big hit was “The Glass Menagerie” in 1944, followed by “A Streetcar Called Desire” in 1948, which won him that year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Five years later, he won another Pulitzer Prize for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
“So two Pulitzers before age 50,” Beaver said.
Williams also received several New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for his plays and a Tony Award for Best Play in 1951 for The Rose Tattoo.
In 1980 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter for shaping “the history of modern American theater through plays ranging from passionate tragedy to lyrical comedy.”
Williams wrote more than 150 plays, most of which were produced and 17 were filmed. Unfortunately, Beaver said, there are also many dozens that haven’t been produced; his estate did not release them.
“But there’s still so many out there that most people haven’t heard of,” Beaver said, including the festival’s two one-act plays, “The Case of the Crushed Petunias” and “This Property is Condemned.”
Beaver said he was interested in all things Tennessee Williams, having seen him several times in Key West but never getting to know him.
“I’ve always regretted that. You should take this opportunity if you see someone you want to get to know; Just say hello,” advises Beaver.
The Vero Beach Theater Guild will keep the exhibition at least until the end of the festival. Beaver says her museum is at 513 Truman Ave. and adds, “Truman is better known up here as US 1, so when you start heading south, join us.”
The 10 X Tenn Festival was the idea of Jon Putzke, artistic director of VBTG. “We wanted to expand the offer of ‘The Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ into a month-long festival,” says Putzke.
“Every single night of the week in September there will be something going on that is either for or by Tennessee Williams. It’s all connected.”
Further performances until the end of 2022: 21.-23. and 28.-30. October Stage readings of Yasmina Reza’s “Art”, winner of the 1998 Tony Award for Best Play; 4-27 Nov. “Musical Chairs,” a musical comedy with “at least six showstoppers”; 9th-11th and 16.-18. Dec. Stage readings of “Love, Loss & What I Wore” with “Monologues and Ensemble Pieces on Women, Dress and Memory”.
For a full schedule of 10 X Tenn events and performances for the 2022-23 season, visit VeroBeachTheatreGuild.com.
Photos by Joshua Kodis